Report: Trump Administration Plans to Bypass Congress in Arms Sale to Gulf Nations

In move said to be led by Pompeo, the administration can circumvent Congress' opposition to export munitions to Saudi Arabia on the pretext of rising tensions with Iran, NYT reports

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Yemenis carry a body that was recovered in the rubble of a destroyed building following reported Saudi-led coalition air strikes in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on May 16, 2019
Yemenis carry a body that was recovered in the rubble of a destroyed building following reported Saudi-led coalition air strikes in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on May 16, 2019Credit: AFP

The Trump administration is trying to push an emergency provision that would allow it to circumvent Congress and export billions of dollars of munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The move would likely further exacerbate rising tensions with Saudi Arabia's arch-rival Iran.

Legislators familiar with the plan told the Times that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several political appointees are leading the move in an attempt to bypass Congress, which is trying to halt the sale in protest of the Saudi killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen.

Both parties have expressed their ire with the arms deal, which is worth about $7 billion and includes combat aircraft and precision-guided munitions. No foreign policy issue, the Times reports, has so deeply divided Trump and Congress.

In December, both the House and Senate had approved a measure to cut off U.S. support to Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, but it was vetoed by Trump in April.

>> Read more: Saudi Arabia intercepts Houthi missiles headed for Mecca, embassy saysTrump may expect Riyadh to invest in peace deal, but Saudi dollars come at a high price | Analysis

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, was the first to suggest that the Trump administration may exploit this loophole in a series of Tweets on Wednesday. "Arms control law allows Congress to reject a sale to a foreign country," he wrote. "But Trump would claim the sale constitutes an 'emergency' which means Congress can't take a vote of disapproval. It would go through automatically."

The arms sale "could happen this week," Murphy noted.

Congressional aides said there are provisions of the Arms Control Act, which sets rules for international arms transactions, that would allow a president to approve a sale without congressional review in case of a national emergency.

In this case, they said the Republican president would cite rising tensions with Iran as a reason to provide more military equipment to Saudi Arabia, which he sees as an important U.S. partner in the region. Trump has touted arms sales to the Saudis as a way to generate U.S. jobs.

The Times quoted Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warning that he would "pursue all appropriate legislative and other means to nullify these and any planned ongoing sales should the administration move forward in this manner." Republicans Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham have also voiced their opposition.

Trump previously declared an influx of immigrants a national emergency to bypass Congress and get $6 billion to build his wall along the Mexican border. Both Democrats and his fellow Republicans voted to block the move, forcing Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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